Interview by Avinash Mittur
Southern California’s very own pagan metal outfit Helsótt have been working their asses off in their endeavor towards developing a local fan-following through live performances opening up for nationally touring acts. In the process, they themselves have now taken the next big step in their career and become a nationally touring band, with Paganfest America, their first ever North American tour recently coming to a conclusion. Our man Avinash Mittur spoke to vocalist Eric Dow about the tour and all other things Helsótt. Check it out below.
First thing, I believe Helsott is looking for a new guitar player? What happened there?
[laughs] Cutting right to the chase huh? Awesome. Well in my opinion we’re better off without our former guitar player. He quit the band. You know, he screwed up a great opportunity. I am not crying for him, so I think this is a great opportunity to fill the position with someone who actually wants to be here.
Let’s talk about your illnesses that happened on the Paganfest tour. There was the first one in Denver, and then you fell sick again later on, correct?
Yeah, I fell sick in Denver. I played that show pretty well, I don’t think the illness hit me hard enough yet. By the time we played our second show in Tempe, my voice was shot. I think it took about six gigs to get over that first illness. By that time, everyone on the tour was sick. All the different bands have different viruses and were passing it around. After a couple days of feeling better, I got sick again with something completely different. Then, we ended up going to Canada where the climate totally changed due to us going west to east. It kept getting colder and colder and I never really recovered, especially because I was singing every night. It took probably until we were in Chicago for me to start feeling better again. Then a day or two later I fell sick with something else. I basically was healthy for four or five days out of the whole tour.
That really sucks, I’m sorry to hear that Eric.
Yeah, it sucks but we pulled through. I think we did alright. We could have done a lot better… I wasn’t the only one who was sick, but we went out there and gave it our all anyway. A lot of people were grateful for it and a lot of people didn’t even know we were sick.
Oh no, and even the illnesses weren’t a surprise. I’ve been doing this a long time, I know what to expect from touring. I have good friends in bands that tour all over the place, they’re always telling me what to expect. I pretty much knew everything to expect, the only thing that kind of floored me was how great of a response we got. I’ve been to so many different shows where the first band that goes on is really good, but there just aren’t many people that are into them or they don’t show up early enough to see them. That’s kind of what I was expecting, to play to a few people who probably didn’t even really care. Night after night though, we were just floored by the support we got and how many people really enjoyed us. That was the greatest thing for me, and definitely a surprise.
I’d be happy to agree with you there, I remember seeing a packed house right from the get-go at the Hollywood show.
Right. It was very packed in Hollywood by the time we went on. That kind of didn’t surprise us too much since it was our home show. We had people posted that their heroes returned and all that stuff, and we were just shocked by it.
So how did you guys end up getting on the tour in first place?
Well, obviously we had to work really hard to even get to where we were. We put ourselves in the position to be able to afford to go on tour and to be tight as a band, but it really is all about who you know. I met Maurizio from Rock the Nation when we opened up for his band, Ex Deo. Then we just kind of stayed in touch, and then when his other band Kataklysm played the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise, I was able to hang out with him and better our friendship. That’s when he told me that he was the actual owner of the Paganfest tour. At that time, I had already gotten Helsott on the bill for the L.A. show as the local support. He stayed interested and kept a close eye on us and his partner Stephan actually saw us at that Paganfest and I think that’s when we solidified our spot on the Paganfest tour for the next year, which happened to be 2013. It wasn’t until a few months after that Paganfest show that we played that they asked us to do the tour. We were honored and thought that it was really special.
Right on. One thing that was really interesting about this tour was that Helsott was the only American band on the bill.
Yeah absolutely, and we were honored to take that place. There’s a lot of quality pagan and folk metal in the United States and a lot of it goes unnoticed. We felt very proud to be right out there in the thick of it and in the face of all, supporting United States pagan metal.
Was there a language barrier that you had to overcome?
No, not at all. I think everyone spoke English on the tour. Dag from Trollfest was probably the hardest to understand but after drinking with him and hanging out with him for a week or so, we were perfectly able to understand each other. The lead singer of Trollfest speaks perfect English, all of the Heidevolk speak perfect English, the Tyr guys speak perfect English. With Ensiferum, there were a couple guys like Markus who don’t speak English too well so they were kind of shy and didn’t talk too much. Of course, they were also trying to save their voice for the show. They were very appreciative of us being on the tour though, and the feeling was absolutely mutual. We made friends with everyone.
After experiencing those illnesses, are there any lessons that you’ve learned after going on this tour?
Oh yeah, we learned a lot of lessons. I think the main thing that I’m going to take back is to not be too critical on yourself. Sometimes you can play one show where there’s 500 people chanting your name, screaming, pitting and going crazy. The next night you might play to fifty people who have their arms crossed and are just staring at you. You kind of got to take away from that you’re maybe in a different region. It’s not so much that they don’t like you, it’s that they’re taking you in because they haven’t seen you or heard of you before. The illnesses were another reason to not be so critical of ourselves. I was never 100% on the tour, which really bummed me out. I have a lot of power in my voice, and I’m very proud of that power I have. It just wasn’t there at all during the tour, but nobody really noticed. I had nothing but positive feedback throughout the whole tour. Even on the worst days when I could barely even talk. I’m just going to take back that I shouldn’t be so critical of myself, because the fans are definitely not always going to be so critical. They’re going to look at you as a guy onstage doing maybe what they themselves want to do. If you’re making mistakes, they may not necessarily see it. If you’re sounding bad that night, they may not notice it.
Luckily for me, I did get to see you guys when your voice was at 100%. That was at the Key Club opening for Turisas about a couple months or so ago. That was the second to last metal show at the Key Club, what are your thoughts on the venue closing?
I’ll miss it, I mean when I was a kid dreaming of playing in a band it was called the Billboard 100 I think, and I always dreamed of playing there. All my idols have played there throughout the years. It bums me out, it was a real good venue but you know what, to be honest the people running it were fucking assholes. They were shitheads, they treated people wrong. I remembered going to the Septicflesh show there not too long ago, and one of the asshole managers lit sage and ran it back and forth across the crowd while we were standing outside waiting to get in, so that our evil spirits would be cleansed.
Then he ran inside and ran the sage throughout the whole venue. When we finally got in there, everyone was choking on smoke and shit, because of this one self-righteous asshole. That guy had a lot say in what was going on at the Key Club, I wouldn’t be surprised if he had a lot to do with why a lot of people didn’t want to go there anymore. You know, they usually treated the bands like shit. I know we were treated like shit there several times anyway. We swore we’d never go back, but we had the Paganfest opportunity that we couldn’t turn down. We just kind of bit the bullet, said screw it and played there again. I have mixed feelings because I loved the place as a kid and I know it’s a great venue with a lot of history, but those people running it were assholes and didn’t know what the fuck they were doing. They had no business running the place.
That actually bums me out quite a bit to hear that, I thought that the Key Club did a pretty good job of getting great local acts to open up tour packages.
Yeah, I would definitely agree with that. Not very many of the bands came away with great experiences though. I’d definitely like to say that not every one of our experiences there were bad though. It was a great venue with great sound, I had some of my favorite shows ever there. I am sad to see it go.
As far as that Turisas show was concerned anyway, it seemed downright triumphant for you guys. People were chanting your name after the set and there were a ton of Helsott shirts in the crowd.
Yeah, that was great. Like I said, some of my greatest onstage memories are going to be from the Key Club. I’m never going to forget that night opening for Turisas, I’m never going to forget Paganfest, but at the same time I’m never going to forget when we played with Possessed there and we were treated like absolute dogshit. There was a give and take, and I’ll definitely remember the good times, the fans and friends, and the people chanting our name. That humbles me every time I think about it.
On a brighter note, Helsott had the Folkvangr EP come out about a year ago. Are there plans for a follow-up?
Man, we’ve got so many songs… We were really hoping to get some label support off of this tour and maybe borrow some money and get into a studio. We may not necessarily get signed right away. We should probably start thinking about releasing our first full-length on our own dime, and if we can’t get signed we can just hook up a distribution deal and release it ourselves. The material’s there, we’ve got to get it out.
After the tour ended, was there any label interest coming in for Helsott?
I’ve had a couple of conversations with a few ‘big people’, people I would be absolutely stoked to work with. Honestly though, nothing really solid has come from it. We’ve only been back for about a week, which I spent recuperating and getting better. I really haven’t touched base with anyone yet, and I think once I start reaching out to them I think we’ll get a little more notice.
I know you guys have been playing some unreleased material too, like the sequel to ‘Vandals Divide’ if I remember right?
Oh yeah. We have a lot of songs that are unreleased because we only had the money to put together the three songs on that one little EP. That’s three songs out of what, fifteen that we have? We love all of our songs. ‘Cessation: Vandals Divide Part II’ is actually one of the newer songs we’ve written, but we all fell in love with it so much that we decided to start playing it immediately.
When and if Helsott take care of the full length, will the songs from the EP be featured on it?
The songs on the EP will probably be entirely separate. We feel that the sound quality for the EP isn’t amazing, but we think it’s good enough. We can move on and just record new stuff for the full length. If we get label support before we go into the studio, then obviously the label will have a lot of say into whether we should re-record those songs or not. It also depends on how much money we can get together and the studio we end up going to. If we’re talking about putting together a kickass, badass sounding album with awesome artwork to where it looks like we’re already signed, then yeah, maybe we will put those three songs on it and up the ante. We can always do better, we feel that ‘Folkvangr’ should have been recorded faster. When you get such little time in the studio… We did that song in a day- preproduction, click track and all. We were all listening to the click for I don’t know how long, and half of us were saying it needs to be faster, and the other half were saying that the tempo was fine. After playing it for so long, we realized that it does need to be faster after all. That will probably be the first song we re-record.
Now that Helsott are officially a national touring act, what’s the next big goal for the band?
Well, I think a label and recording is definitely in our vision. We’ve always been a band that picks a goal and goes for it. I think recording is very important, but we’ve gotten probably three tour offers since we got back and probably ten gig offers, all of them headlining with money guaranteed. We definitely went from selling tickets and paying to play to now being paid to go to our own shows. Half of us want to keep that momentum going, but the other half really want to get our songs recorded. I think the next goal for us is a happy medium between playing shows and keeping our live momentum going, and getting that album recorded. All while I’m searching for a label!
Is there any advice that you have to offer to young acts in LA that are going through pay to play, and how to get on the national touring circuit?
Keep doing it. As much as you fucking hate it, keeping paying to play. Keep playing the big shows. It’s all in who you know. Helsott was together for two years before we got our break, and it was by knowing Maurizio Iacono. The two years was spent getting tighter as a band and getting our experience up to where when got the opportunity, we were prepared to take it. That’s most important- when you’re at the right place at the right time and you have the right guy who’s willing to help you out, you better be ready. My honest opinion is that you need to play as many pay to play shows as possible, once a month at least, if not two. Get everyone in the band onboard with working hard to sell tickets because if it isn’t all about who you know, you need to get yourself out there and meet people. Don’t just go and play the shows, call it done and sit back in the crowd and enjoy. Get in the crowd and start meeting people. You never know who’s at your show. The guy in the suit could be an industry guy, the guy with long dreadlocks wearing a Metallica shirt could be an industry guy. You just never know. You got to get out there and talk to everyone.